Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. 17 The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They called his name Obed.
“We belong in a bundle of life,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes when he describes ubuntu, the South African philosophy that “a person is a person through other persons.” At the beginning of the story, Naomi lost the people through whom she was a person: her husband, her two sons, a daughter-in-law. At the end of the story, she stands in a bundle of life, becoming a new person through the new persons surrounding her. The end of the book of Ruth is belonging. For everyone. Call Ruth a love story of two people if you want, but those two people need a whole community to bring their love to life. When Obed is born, he belongs not just to his nuclear family, but to his whole community. “A son has been born to Naomi,” the village women say—these same village women who refused to call her Bitter when she spoke honestly of how she felt at her lowest low. Why do the women say that? The son is not Naomi’s, yet they belong to each other. And so do the village women belong—Obed is not named by his mother and father, or even by his grandmother, he is named by the neighborhood women who will grow up with him in the streets, looking after him and his parents and his grandmother. Obed’s birth is the symbol of everyone’s belonging. Each person becomes more a part of the community by his presence.
Does belonging always mean a fairy tale ending? Of course not. Ruth is a family story, but not everyone finds belonging in nuclear family (even one as nontraditional as Ruth and Naomi’s). In 1867, generations later and on a different continent, Mother Jones had a Naomi-like experience when she lost her husband and four children to yellow fever. She never married or had more children, but took the name Mother Jones and organized miners’ unions and advocated for better working conditions. She was at the center of every march and movement and created a labor movement where everyone belonged: widows, bachelors, children. Belonging is not always about blood family; it is also about chosen family.
Takeaway: Jesus wove an odd bunch of male and female disciples into “a bundle of life.” He taught people who had nobody to belong to each other. As we approach the sorrow of Holy Week, we also draw closer to each other, leaning toward the ones to whom we belong. Create a quiet moment today to name and pray for the ones to whom you belong, near and far, the people who give and create home for you.
Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).